Since the committee for the Carver, Marion, Wareham Regional Refuse Disposal District fired its Executive Director Ray Pickles in January, the dumpster fire that Pickles left behind from years of mismanagement burns on, and the future of trash disposal in Marion is suffused in the smoky uncertainty of pending transfer station closures and pricey stickers for residents forced to fund a waste disposal overhaul.
Not only will the three towns have to split the $25,000 bill for a forensic audit of the district after Pickles let six years pass without an annual audit of the district’s finances, the committee is paying previous years’ bills using its fiscal year 2018 budget and making difficult decisions resulting from unauthorized overpayments Pickles made to employees over the years for vacation and sick time buybacks.
What’s more, the district’s contract to dispose of its trash with Covanta expires in 2020, and no one knows what the committee is going to do about it. What is clear, however, is that a critical overhaul of the district could mean closing the Marion transfer station and consolidating the district’s Rochester facility, building an entirely new increased capacity facility, or even dissolving the district with the three towns going their separate ways.
The committee struggled on June 6 with these issues and more. “Reality…” grumbled committee Chairman Steve Cushing after Carver’s Town Administrator Michael Milanoski took to the white board for a woeful lesson that could have been titled “Existentialism and Despair in Municipal Economics.”
The cost of disposal is going up, said Milanoski, as well as associated fuel costs. Without Covanta, he said, the district would have to purchase its own equipment, make upgrades to one consolidated facility, and try to operate it for, say, $600,000 instead of $1 million.
“That’s about the only thing we have control over,” said Milanoski.
The likely scenario for continuing the waste disposal district and keeping it solvent is the closure of the Marion facility and the expansion of the Rochester station. But after years of never having to pay any significant fees for the disposal of trash, residents of the three towns might have to purchase annual disposal stickers, perhaps even two – one for the district and one for their town – or buy district trash bags along with town assessments to fund the operations.
“People can freak out,” said Milanoski, “but we as three towns … have been extremely fortunate because we got the big goose egg.”
But that goose egg, Milanoski said, is going away.
“It’s not a political decision,” said Milanoski. “You’re gonna have to start paying for the service that you’ve been getting for twenty-five years for free.”
At the end of the day, said Milanoski, “It’s math. We only have so many levers we can control…. We can’t control the cost of disposal or fuel … labor, either.”
“There’s a whole lot of ways that we have to do in this,” said Marion Town Administrator Paul Dawson. “The committee members are going to have to agree on a policy.”
Included in a policy would be more robust regulations with steep fines to deter illegal dumping, which the committee suspects would increase once disposal fees are implemented.
The Town of Rochester, which has been sending Selectman Brad Morse and the town administrator to these committee meetings just to listen in, could even consider joining the district once its own trash contract expires to mitigate its own possible waste disposal woes.
“In this changing market, it’s just the way it’s got to be,” Dawson said. “Nobody likes it, but the reality is we’ve got to deal with it.”
But at least one thing was certain, and that was the district needs a new executive director to guide the committee towards a vision of how it wants to manage its operations moving forward and to help defuse the ticking time bombs before the two and a half year deadline.
“We really don’t have a plan here,” said Cushing. “We have nothing here but an idea and that’s it…. We can’t afford to continue on with nobody at the helm.”
There was some good news, though, said Marion Finance Director Judith Mooney. Finances are practically up to date and stable, and further financial documents have been discovered that will assist in the financial audit, although the district expects the Department of Revenue will render a number of “significant findings” against the district – a pickle to dill with when the time comes.
In other matters, the district will hold a hazardous waste disposal day on August 11 and will soon make an announcement allotting a specific time frame for each of the three towns to keep the flow manageable.
The CMWRRDD Committee decided to meet again the following Wednesday, June 13, at 5:00 pm at the Marion police station to discuss Pickles’ overpayment of a retired employee and an advertisement for the executive director position.
Carver, Marion, Wareham Regional Refuse Disposal District Committee
By Jean Perry